In late December, as Austin once again returned to Stage 5, we once again closed, only this time, no one else did.
For us, the decision was already made. We had discussed with our core team, in the weeks prior, that should we again (inevitably) arrive at our City’s highest risk level for the COVID-19 pandemic, we would immediately close our Austin storefront to the public. That is what the guidelines state to do. There is no mincing words, no spectrum for interpretation, that course of action is clearly and unequivocally stated.
What I did not anticipate was that no one else would heed that guidance. Suddenly, I was jolted back to May when I first was confronted with this impossible choice as a small business owner in the state of Texas. Here, it's our choice, and implicit in that choice? Decide which you will prioritize more: revenue or the safety of both the public and your team. We opted for safety, and in the process, we have foregone essential revenue.
These past weeks, I have understood why so many are participating in the gaslighting that is remaining open. In these circumstances, with this set of variables, it is the only road to survival.
The pressures have remained unrelenting - rent, payroll, insurance, health benefits, materials, utilities. In an ideal world, we would be encouraged to close and supported financially for the duration of that closure. But that is not our reality. PPP, EIDL, those blessed and rare gestures have been used up on exactly what they were intended for and are gone. And now?
Right now, in this moment, I can hear the mantra of these 10 months: Pivot. The thing about pivoting? A pivot that begins as a sprint cannot be stretched to a marathon at no cost to the host. My back is tweaked, my neck is sore. If I read one more post, hear one more pep talk or watch one more webinar about pivoting being the silver bullet to surviving this, I will fucking scream. How do you think we have made it these past 10 months? We’ve pivoted like a yogi playing Twister.
So how do we make it to the Summer or the Fall like this? We could reopen before Austin moves back to Stage 4, encourage our community to leave their house and idly browse in the extremely expensive square footage that is our storefront. We could overrule our team’s legitimate concerns for their personal safety with a refrain of “just be sure to wash your hands”. We could pretend that everyone will actually remain 6 feet apart at all times (have you shopped IRL? That doesn't happen), pretend that a plexi shield and a cloth mask are bulletproof even as the US death count is currently just shy of 400,000 and the vaccine roll out progresses at a glacial pace.
It is not lost on me that we are privileged as a business because we are in a position to operate with masks on, that we have a product that is tangible and can be shipped, that our business model already incorporates eCommerce. There are so many who are so much worse off, and my heart aches for them. There are also many businesses that are heavily resourced and have moved through this entire period with a “let them eat cake” attitude, unabashedly exposing their staff and the patrons they serve to a level of risk that is nothing short of wildly negligent. Their pursuit of the bottom line is not survival, it is business as usual with side no fucks given. This period has provided consumers with a rare opportunity to get to know exactly what kind of values are at the core of the businesses they frequent, and I would urge everyone to really pay attention.
I don’t know what’s next for us. I am trying to lean into hope, to remain committed to the beauty, sustainability, aesthetic pleasures and ethical commitments that led me to create MBS. We have so much in development, so much still to do, so many ways still to grow and do more and better.
It’s a prayer and a wish, it’s the air that I breath week in and week out: to just weather this so we can get on with the real work. To no longer be fixated on surviving so we can begin thriving.
It’s a prayer and a wish I am holding for all of us.